“This is my first completely self-produced album with my own band. I got my own way with everything—all the decisions that you hear on this album were mine,” details Lianne Havas in a previous interview. “I’m a woman now, so I’m less shy and timid about saying certain things. And there’s no right or wrong when it’s your record, so I was very much embracing that fact, as well.”
Lianne La Havas’ self-titled 2020 album is the third in her stellar roster. The album opens with the song Bittersweet, a heartfelt love letter with a hook game that’s comparable to Unstoppable, one of La Havas’ catchiest previous songs. From the first head-bopping beats and the hair-raising build up, to the epic peak in which she channels the soulful power of Aretha Franklin, it would be an understatement to say that Bittersweet absolutely bops. In short, British RnB, pop, folk, and neo-soul goddess Lianne La Havas hasn’t lost a step in her third and arguably most personal album to date. Her hook game is still on point and she still sounds like a time traveler from the early days of soul, but for this album, her dream-pop sensibilities move aside to make way for a decidedly more naked sound.
Another reason why Bittersweet is the perfect song to open with is the fact that the entire album itself is a love letter. Pitchfork reveals how she stretches her songwriting chops by chronicling a whirlwind relationship with a musician from Los Angeles, their breakup, and La Havas’ decision to move to London to heal and make room for growth.
This has notably pushed her sound towards sparser and more vintage-leaning instrumentation. La Havas’ acoustic guitar continues to be accompanied by the echoes of her trusty Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb which she has used over the years in both studio recordings and live sets. And her voice is as soulful as ever. Beyond that, the entire production is noticeably pulled back compared to her earlier albums, her typical shimmering pop-driven accents making way for an overall more traditional sound. Some would say that this minimalist approach is often where she truly shines, as heard in her most recent NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert in which she shares bare bones takes of Bittersweet and Paper Thin with just her acoustic reverb as accompaniment.
In the song Can’t Fight which is the album’s first released single, La Havas even ditches the reverb and showcases her guitar-picking skills on a clean signal, accompanied by her insanely talented band. Can’t Fight is a rumination on how hard it is to make the right decisions while burdened with strong feelings of love and attachment – driven by an infectious bass line and La Havas’ still growing lyricism. Meanwhile the sole electric guitar in the whole album can be heard in the song Please Don’t Make Me Cry, courtesy of the guitar and production chops of alt-RnB musician Nick Hakim, for whom La Havas has previously expressed admiration. The result is a boom bap-inspired track that’s reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s work, which is also somewhat applicable to many of the other songs on the album. In short, not a second is wasted in Lianne La Havas’ new collection of folksy neo-soul tracks, a glaring glimpse into the bright, new musical landscapes which she continues to explore.
Feature exclusively written for landonbuford.com
By Alana James